Obituary: Octavio Gustavo Boubion

Grandfather, launched ‘Upward Bound’ at Harvey Mudd College

Octavio Gustavo Boubion, a longtime Claremont resident who launched the Upward Bound program at the Claremont Colleges and built it into a nationally recognized model of excellence, died March 14 in Claremont, surrounded by family. He was 89 and suffered a long decline due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Boubion was the husband of Joanne E. Boubion and the father of seven children. He was also a devout Catholic and former Claretian seminarian who carried his passion for the poor throughout his career and retirement years.

Boubion was born on May 11, 1934, in Boyle Heights, California to Maclovia and David Boubion, Mexican immigrants who found their way to Los Angeles in the late 1910s to realize the American dream. Nicknamed “Dio” as a child, he was the eighth born of 10 children and youngest son.

He told his kids that he was on the path to juvenile delinquency when one of his neighborhood buddies told him about the Claretian seminary in Dominguez Hills, California. He admitted that he joined the seminary at the age of 14 because of the seminary’s swimming pool, three-course meals, and wide open fields. But soon he bloomed intellectually, and was grateful for the classical education and religious training he received.

At age 19, Boubion realized he had to walk away from the priesthood because he didn’t want to take the vow of celibacy.

Following in his older brothers’ footsteps he then joined the military, and served in the 8th Army Infantry Battalion paratrooper unit, based at Ft. Benning, Georgia, during the Korean conflict. After his service he graduated from Cal State University, Los Angeles, on the GI Bill with a degree in sociology. Determined to work with marginalized youth and families, his first job was as a parole officer for the California Department of Corrections. Then one day, he came face-to-face with a parolee who was a childhood friend. “I couldn’t handle it,” he said. “I quit.”

Thus began a career more geared to social work, helping low income Black and Latino youth and families in Los Angeles County escape poverty. For a time, he worked for a Catholic welfare agency in Pomona.

In 1960, Boubion was 26. “At that age he liked to project a certain image — that of a worldly, Latin spouting, cigarette smoking, Lothario,” his family shared. “But he was all talk. After those years in the seminary, he was terrified of women.  One night, he went on a double date with his best friend Juan Vasquez, Juan’s girlfriend Anita Zermeño, and Anita’s unattached friend from Immaculate Heart College nursing school, Joanne Wanek of Edmonton, Alberta. They went to Club Granada on Main Street in downtown LA and the band that night was Mariachi Los Camperos. He whipped out a cigarette and held it the European way, pinched between his thumb and index finger. Joanne, age 21 at the time, was smitten.” They married in North Vancouver on November 4, 1961.

He moved his family to Claremont in 1968 to start the Upward Bound program at the Claremont Colleges. A thousand first generation, low income students from Chino to El Monte have him to thank for recruiting them to Upward Bound and helping them get into college. As a first-generation college student himself, Boubion was driven by the desire to give his students a better life and saw a college education as the engine of social mobility that it was. With federal and institutional support from Harvey Mudd’s first president Joseph Platt, Boubion created an innovative and nationally recognized program that went far beyond homework help and SAT prep. He was the first Upward Bound director to develop summer internship programs in La Jolla, California, Sacramento, the eastern Sierras, and other locations so his students could be exposed to science and technology, legislative politics and policy, and the wilderness.

He took particular joy in his wilderness program, with locations in Yosemite and in a bunk house off U.S. Route 395. “The man who yearned to see snow as a child growing up in the barrio made sure that the city kids in Upward Bound saw snow, could identify Orion’s Belt in the sky, and know a ponderosa pine from a Douglas fir,” his family added.

“In the early years of Upward Bound, he often went on home visits to convince families, mostly Spanish speaking immigrants like his parents were, to let their teen join Upward Bound,” his daughter Gina Boubion-Ryan recalled. “Once he took me along. I remember watching one set of parents grow teary-eyed when my dad said the magic words: ‘Your son is college material.’”

At 40, Boubion earned a master’s degree in education from Claremont Graduate University, then called Claremont Graduate School. He retired from Harvey Mudd College in 1995. “An enduring memory was former students calling up the Boubion home, dropping by, sending him Christmas cards, to thank him for changing their lives,” his family said. “This continued for decades.”

In his retirement, he and his wife delighted in their 17 grandchildren. They travelled to China, Guatemala, and many times to Toronto and New York to visit their daughters. He took classes at the Claremont School of Theology and volunteered his time giving out emergency funding to the needy at Our Lady of Assumption Church. He and his wife ran engaged encounter weekends for couples who were getting married in the Catholic Church.

“During his dementia journey, our mother was by his side,” his children related. “They celebrated their 62ndanniversary last November. The most tragic aspect of his memory loss was losing his favorite identities, that of husband and father.”

He is survived by his wife Joanne; daughter Gina Boubion-Ryan (Tim Ryan) of New York; son Paul (Claudia Venegas Boubion) of Tijuana, Mexico; daughter Anne Boubion-Steers of Toronto, Ontario, Canada; sons Matthew (Sofia Villalpando Boubion) of Playa Vista, California, John of Oakland, California; Timothy (Rosemary Marin Boubion) of Monterey Park, California; Elizabeth Boubion of Oakland; seventeen grandchildren; one great-grandchild; sisters Bertha, Lena, and Espie; and dozens of nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers donations can be sent to Claremont Meals on Wheels at


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